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Hurley: Keeping Krejci Long-Term The Most Important Task For Chiarelli’s Summer

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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David Krejci (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

David Krejci (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — The long, long summer has begun in earnest for Peter Chiarelli and the Boston Bruins, at least a few weeks earlier than anyone should have rightly expected. And with the wound of losing to Montreal still fresh, the thoughts of many have turned to major decisions — which players need to go, and which players from outside the organization need to be targeted.

Yet it is a player who is currently on the roster and should remain there who must be the center focus of Chiarelli this offseason. That player is David Krejci.

Krejci turned 28 last month, and he presumably has at least five years of being an elite centerman ahead of him. Though his zero-goal, four-assist output in 12 playoff games this spring was a major disappointment, he has twice led the entire NHL in postseason scoring (2011, 2013), the offensive catalyst on the longest two Bruins postseason runs in 20-plus years. He also has somewhat subtly shaken the label as a player who floats at times during the regular season, as evidenced by his 19 goals, 50 assists and a plus-39 rating, which ranked No. 1 in the NHL.

He took a lot of heat for his lack of scoring in the postseason, yet he was accountable throughout the playoffs and after the Game 7 defeat to the Canadiens. He also never blamed his wingers for that production drought, even though he could have very easily shifted the blame. Milan Lucic’s focus and commitment in the offensive end of the ice wavered at times, and Jarome Iginla looked slowed or at least impaired by his mysterious late-season lower-body injury. Those two were just not the same players in the playoffs as they were in the regular season, and as a result it was difficult for Krejci to pick up assists when he didn’t have wingers to score. Krejci no doubt did not play his best, but the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

He was drafted by the Bruins in 2004, he’s been a full-time member of the team since 2007, and he’s been a top-line center on two runs through the Stanley Cup Final. Clearly, he’s a key member of the organization, and he’s someone that Chiarelli wants to keep around for many years to come.

But doing so won’t be easy.

As Krejci enters the final season of his three-year, $15.75 million contract, the time is presumably now for Chiarelli to approach the Krejci camp with an extension offer. That’s what Chiarelli has done in the past to Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Marc Savard (in season). Those were players identified as part of the core group, and Chiarelli did what was necessary to prevent them from reaching free agency.

So now, you would figure he’d be planning on doing the same for Krejci. But again, it’s tricky.

For one, there is the obvious: Krejci is getting a raise. His $5.25 million salary no doubt puts plenty of food on the table, but he’s at the age where he’s poised to cash in on a big-money deal. Considering linemate Lucic makes $6 million per season for the next two years, it might stand to reason that you’d have to start at $6.5 million for Krejci. Because really, what is Lucic without Krejci? Is he a first-line player? It wouldn’t be extraordinarily difficult to credit much of Lucic’s offensive success to the masterful work of Krejci with the puck. Even if you don’t want to make that argument, Krejci still deserves more money by virtue of being a center, his occasional work killing penalties and his job quarterbacking the power play.

A fair deal for Krejci might be identical to the one signed by Bergeron after last year’s Cup Final loss — eight years, $52 million, with an average annual value of $6.5 million. They’re both roughly the same age, and they both play crucial roles on the Bruins’ top two lines. However given Krejci’s outstanding postseason record, 2014 excluded, his camp could make the case for more if it wanted to. That would complicate matters for Chiarelli.

And fitting such a contract under the salary cap may not be quite as easily as was initially expected. With the new CBA, the plan for was for the salary cap to be near $71 million in 2014-15. However, due in part to the falling value of the Canadian dollar, Gary Bettman has admitted that the cap may be $69 million or $70 million next year. For a team like the Bruins, who are already on the hook for more than $62 million in salary next year, plus the $3.7 million in bonus money from Jarome Iginla’s contract this year, that’s not an insignificant change.

Chiarelli built this team and structured his contracts with the understanding that the cap would be going up to $71 million in the upcoming season. A change to that reality certainly doesn’t make the GM’s job any easier this summer.

In addition to worrying about Krejci’s long-term future, Chiarelli has a healthy to-do list. Carl Soderberg’s entering the final year of his deal, and he’s likely due a large pay raise from his $1 million salary. With Shawn Thornton hitting unrestricted free agency, Chiarelli has an opportunity — and a need — to rework the fourth line. Torey Krug is a restricted free agent and will need a decent-sized contract, as will Matt Bartkowski if the Bruins elect to keep him. Dougie Hamilton, who looked the part of a top-pair D-man in the playoffs, is also entering the final year of his entry-level contract, which also has to be on the mind of Chiarelli.

There’s also the issue of Iginla’s free agency. Whether the Bruins re-sign Iginla or look elsewhere, the fact remains they’re going to need a top-line right winger. And top-line right wingers cost money.

Obviously, there are ways for Chiarelli to make this work, considering Krejci’s 2014-15 salary is locked in and considering the cap will presumably continue to rise as the years go on. But the point is, finagling all of these contracts under yet-to-be-determined salary caps is a very difficult job, and there’s a chance it interferes with Chiarelli’s ability to offer Krejci the right contract.

“We’ll manage,” Chiarelli said last week of the impending cap situation. “We’ve had overages before and the cap’s going up, so we’ll manage.”

Chiarelli does have options. There is the possibility of buying out Chris Kelly, who’s due $3 million over the next two seasons, in order to free up about $1 million in cap space.

There’s also the possibility, however small it may be, that Chiarelli decides either Marchand or Lucic — or both — aren’t the core players he wants on the team. The duo counts for $10.5 million against the cap. Though they put up decent regular-season numbers (Lucic had 24 goals and 35 assists, Marchand 25 and 28), they didn’t do much in the playoffs. Matt Kalman detailed pretty well how the two showed moments of immaturity in the postseason run, and when you factor in how quickly the Bruins looked at Seguin and deemed him to be very talented but simply not a $5.75 million player, it’s not completely far-fetched to imagine a future without Marchand and/or Lucic on the Bruins roster.

Of course, those chances remain slim, but they exist. And if Chiarelli was ultimately faced with choosing between Lucic or Krejci, the choice should be a no-brainer.

The Bruins should sign Krejci to a long-term deal. It’s very likely the Bruins want to sign Krejci to a long-term deal. If, for some reason, those other contracts and a slightly shrinking salary cap get in the way of that deal happening, it could be a much greater loss for the Bruins than the one delivered last week by the Canadiens.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

All salary figures from CapGeek.com.

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